In Gigi Guerrero’s ‘Bingo Hell’ Features Feisty Seniors in the Fight for Their Lives
Reviewed By Stacey Yvonne:
The barrio of Oak Springs is in the middle of a facelift that comes with new coffee shops, new renovations, and a lot of mixed feelings. Some are happy with the alleged upgrades, but others, like Adriana Barraza’s Lupita, believe that change brings nothing but trouble.
This year Welcome to Blumhouse Features four distinct films in the second season of their horror anthology series on Amazon. Bingo Hell, written and directed by Gigi Guerrero features a more traditional take on horror, it just might be a different tradition than you’re used to. Instead of a typical Dracula/Boogeyman take, the film supposes a villain out of a beloved staple of any senior community: the Bingo hall.
In Oak Springs, Lupita, along with her friends and neighbors (most notably L. Scott Caldwell as Dolores, Lupita’s on-again/off-again bestie with her own struggles) have fought for years to keep their neighborhood safe. Though the area suffered a steady financial decline, the neighbor’s band together to help small businesses in need as well as their own found family. Every weekend at the Bingo parlor – which is an essentially disused rec center in the middle of town. Lupita and Dolores run the game as a way to help those in need in their community and have a bit of fun.
Their way of life is threatened when the BINGO hall owner, Mario (David Jenson) goes missing and in his place, we meet Mr. Big, played with creepy charm by the always wonderful Richard Brake (Kingsman: The Secret Service). Mr. Big turns the hall into a neon-lit dark room that’s bigger on the inside than the outside. He promises that the winner of each BINGO will receive a prize that will fulfill their wildest dreams. Instead, we see each” winner” seemingly possessed into recreating their worst nightmares.
Lupita tries to figure out how to take down Mr. Big when one by one her community falls prey to his deceptions and treachery. She feels helpless but is reminded that this is her community and she will fight to the death to keep it.
Bingo Hell feels like a spooky bedtime story your grandmother tells you to convince you to behave. It’s horror as a moral imperative and it’s not ineffective. We see many of the characters fall to their own selfish desires while others give into temptation out of desperation. Dolores has lost her son and is left providing housing for his widow, Raquel (Kelly Murtagh of The Lovebirds), and grandson Caleb (up-and-comer Joshua Caleb Johnson of The Good Lord Bird). She misses her son dearly and wants to provide stability but can’t hide her disappointment at her son’s choice of a partner or her grandson’s attitude that appears to be leading to juvenile delinquency. Raquel is one of the winners of the first nefarious Bingo game and her fate is sealed when she takes the money and runs. Dolores now finds herself in a position she wasn’t expecting, having to be the sole provider and support for a grandson she can’t relate to.
There’s also Yolanda (Bertila Damas), the lone beautician in their small town whose success depends on shoddy repairs and the tips of little old ladies who need a permanent. She’s relatively young in comparison but seems to be all alone and is grateful to be taken under the wing of a rapidly changing town. Rounding out the group are Clarence (Grover Coulson and Morris (Clayton Landey), two of the town’s aged repairmen, one is a mechanic and the other is a bumbling handyman. And finally, we’re introduced to Eric (Jonathan Medina) a former banger gone straight and pseudo son of Lupita who tries to mentor Caleb.
Bingo Hell is fascinating in its take on the modern-day struggles of our aging community. Lupita isn’t a genteel Abuela who spends her day knitting and ignoring the world around her. She’s active as she wakes every day, bemoaning the declining state of her body as her joints creak from standing up too fast. She’s angry and fed up with feeling like she’s fighting alone to keep what is theirs. Her struggle is rooted in her stubbornness to look around and realize they don’t have all that much.
But Lupita is a proud woman and her determination is both what keeps her immune to the wiles of Mr. Big while at the same time being a contributing factor for why others can’t resist his charms. Her journey is intricately connected to everyone else in the town and in order to be its true savior, Lupita will have to sacrifice some strongly held ideals.
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Overall while being poignant, Bingo Hell is fun! Shot during COVID with a cast of vulnerable actors, the production made sure that safety was the top concern. The performances in the movie are easy and feel lived in. There’s a certain pathos that inhabits each character and lifts them firmly from the page. The colors are dark only accented by harsh neon lights. Guerrero and cinematographer Byron Werner did an excellent job of lighting and constructing these scenes, obviously making a mountain out of a molehill on a modest budget.
Is it the perfect movie? It doesn’t really need to be. Listen, towards the end, Bingo Hell plays real fast and loose with the rules and does kind of descend into a Robert Rodriguez movie with some unsettling and effective gory deaths. Guerrero plays the race card in an irreverent and necessary fashion and it makes for some easy, tension-breaking laughs. The film is well constructed and definitely worth the watch for a dark night and bowl of popcorn.
Bingo Hell premiered Friday, October 1st, and can be found streaming on Amazon Prime.
Pull Quote: Bingo Hell is fascinating in its take on the modern-day struggles of our aging community. It feels like a spooky bedtime story your grandmother tells you to convince you to behave. It’s horror as a moral imperative and it’s not ineffective.